Funchal, the capital of Madeira, has a small-town vibe with big city credentials. Here’s what can happen when you mix Portuguese spirit with a subtropical climate in a city fuelled by fortified wine and Pastel de Nata.

By: Paul | Last Updated: 9 Apr 2024 | Jump to Comments & Questions

Down Arrow

Displayed like a football stadium, Funchal is an amphitheatre of terracotta houses curving down towards the Atlantic Ocean. High above the city, towering mountains provide a scenic backdrop to this colourful European centre.

With a sub-tropical climate providing delightful year-round temperatures, Funchal is an excellent base for exploring the island.

Enjoy a day of exhilarating outdoor activities and wind down with a glass of fortified wine. Have a slow stroll through the old town or take to the streets on an exhilarating toboggan ride.

Funchal sets a relaxed pace under a lush, rugged canvas, making it a unique European destination for outdoor adventures and cultural kicks.   

We visited Funchal with Jet2holidays. Here’s what we got up to.

IN THIS GUIDE

THINGS TO DO IN FUNCHAL, MADEIRA

TOP ATTRACTIONS

MAP

WHEN TO VISIT

WHERE TO STAY

GETTING THERE

MORE READING

1. FUNCHAL TO MONTE CABLE CAR

Funchal is oriented around a small Old Town squeezed between the mountains and the sea. Midway up the hillside backdrop, Monte is a small village that sits around 550 metres above sea level.

The Funchal-Monte Cable Car runs from the historic centre of Funchal up to the village of Monte.

It’s a great way to take in the sweeping amphitheatre of Funchal and there are several great things to do once you get to the village.

WHAT TO DO IN MONTE

  • Take the traditional wicker Toboggan ride back down to Funchal.  
  • Stroll through the beautiful Tropical Gardens at Monte Palace.
  • Admire the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte (Church of Our Lady of the Mount)
  • Have coffee at Local Shop for an excellent drop with an even better view.
  • Take the cable car over to the beautiful hilltop Botanical Gardens.
  • Admire the cute little Babosas Chapel.

Teleférico do Funchal – The cable car station is located in the garden of Almirante Reis, in the Funchal Old Town. For prices and opening times, see madeiracablecar.com.

2. MONTE TOBOGGAN

Wicker toboggan sledges were the original form of transport for locals who needed a speedy way to get from the hill of Monte down to Funchal in what was one of the world’s coolest commutes.

Today, the Monte Wicker Toboggan ride is one of the most popular tourist activities in Funchal.

Powered by 2 runners called Carreiros, the toboggan ride is an exhilarating dash down the streets of Funchal where corners are taken with an additional twist to extract screeches from delighted tourists.

The cost is €27.50 for a one-person toboggan, reduced to €17.50 per person if you share with 1 or 2 people. If you are travelling by yourself, you’ll have plenty of time to make a friend to share a toboggan with.

Queues can be snaking up the hill and it’s not uncommon to wait up to 2 hours. We highly recommending arriving as soon as the toboggans start running (9 am) to avoid queuing.

The ride is 2 kilometres long and takes around 10 minutes.

Starting Point – The starting point is just below the steps of the Monte Church (location). Buy your tickets from the booth first, then join the queue.

Arrival Point – The toboggan ride finishes at Livramento (location). This is about a 40-minute walk back into the Old Town, but there are usually plenty of taxis nearby.

Tips – The Carreiros will tip their Straw Boater hat at the end of the run expecting a tip, so make sure you have some cash with you if you want to tip.

Hours – Monday to Saturday 9 am to 6 pm | Cost€27.50 for 1 person; €35 for 2; and €52.50 for 3 people.

3. JARDIM TROPICAL MONTE PALACE

The Tropical Garden at Monte Palace is a beautiful green space in a prime hilltop position overlooking Funchal Bay.

Displayed over multiple terraced levels, the gardens contain over 100,000 species of exotic flora from all over the world. The highlight for us was the Oriental Garden, adorned with Buddhist sculptures, lanterns and red walkways.

There’s an excellent collection of art throughout the gardens. The most notable are the large panels of Portuguese tiles, some of which date back to the 15th century.

Inside the gardens, the Monte Palace Madeira Museum houses sculptures plus a unique mineral collection from all over the world.

To get to the gardens, it’s a short walk from the top of the Funchal Cable Car.

Hours – 9:30 am – 6 pm | Cost – €15, children under 15 years old have free entry.

4. BOTANICAL GARDENS

The Madeira Botanical Gardens cover 8 hectares of green space featuring ornamental shrubs, exotic orchids, and manicured lawns with wonderful views of Funchal.

There are around 2,500 plants in the garden including succulents, palms and several species that grow only in Madeira. At the end of the gardens, there’s an area devoted to exotic birds, with around 300 species.

The best way to get to the gardens is by taking the Jardim Botânico Cable Car which is just a short walk from the Monte station of the Funchal Cable Car. You can save 10% if you book online.

Hours – 9 am – 6 pm, Monday to Saturday | Cost – €7.50 (over 12 years); €3 (6-12 years). Free on April 30 and July 1. 

5. MERCADO DOS LAVRADORES

Mercado dos Lavradores, or the Farmers’ Market, is a small but bustling market in the centre of Funchal. Out the front you’ll find the flower market, with the fruit and veg occupying a central courtyard.

It’s a lovely place to stroll around with locals snapping up all kinds of delights, and tourists snapping photos. You may find some of the vendors excited to see you, but it’s nothing a polite “no thanks” can’t solve.  

The highlight of the market is the fish section towards the back where you find locals in stiff negotiations for seafood.

Tip – The best time to visit is early in the morning, up to around 1 pm, when the fish market is buzzing. Friday is the busiest day when most vendors are selling.

6. THE PAINTED DOORS

Rua da Santa Maria is one of the oldest streets in Funchal, lined with a mix of residential houses and café terraces.

In 2014, local artists were invited to work their magic on 200 doors in the tiny laneway. The Arte de Portas Abertas project, or Art of Open Doors, has transformed what was once an unassuming street into the most vibrant area in the Old Town.  

Now an open-air gallery, Rua da Santa Maria is completely free and one of the most colourful things to do in Funchal.

After strolling down the laneway to admire the art, grab a treat from Padaria Pastelaria Mariazinha – one of the best bakeries in Madeira.

Dinner Option – If you’re around Rua da Santa Maria in the evening, check out Já Fui Jaquet for dinner. Don’t be put off by the menu on their website, it’s quality Portuguese cooking.

OUR PICK // BEST RESTAURANTS IN FUNCHAL

KAMPO – Refined dishes presented with style, featuring incredible flavours derived from local produce.

HORTA – A beautiful space in natural tones with dishes derived mostly from their own garden. Vegetarian dishes take centre stage.

AUDAX – Innovative modern Madeiran cuisine with wine pairing. Incredible food, but probably not the best choice for vegetarians.

7. MADEIRA WINE

It’s said that Madeira wine was an accident of the island’s seafaring past when wine would over-ferment on long sea voyages. To solve the problem, additional alcohol was added, and the result was a sweet complex wine that’s now the pride of the island.

Madeira wine is still fermented in American Oak with additional alcohol added. You can enjoy it from sweet to dry with a couple of levels of sweetness in between.

It appears on all wine lists in Madeira, but a good way to try it is to do a wine tour at Blandy’s Wine Lodge. They’ll explain the whole process in their atmospheric distillery with tastings included.

8. JARDIM MUNICIPAL

The Municipal Gardens are a lovely spot to explore in Funchal when you’re looking for a quick way to unwind.

It’s a small local garden, filled with exotic plants from the island and many from other parts of the world including macadamia trees, sausage tree, cotton wool tree, and purple jacaranda.

You don’t need long to explore, but it’s worth popping in for a quick look.

9. PRAÇA DO MUNICÍPIO

The Municipal Square is one of the most important squares in the historical centre of Funchal. It’s surrounded by interesting buildings with a fountain in the centre dating to 1942.

Public events are held in the square including Funchal’s famous Christmas Market.

The square is covered in traditional Portuguese black and white tiles which are laid in small repeating arcs creating a uniform central focal point in Funchal.  

municipal square funchal madeira
MUNICIPAL SQUARE

10. FUNCHAL CITY HALL

The striking building in Municipal Square was built in 1758 and became the City Hall of Funchal in 1883.

It’s free to pop in and admire the interior landscaped courtyard with the beautiful Battistini tiles. To learn more about the history of Madeira, you can book a guided tour (€3.50) on weekdays. Tours start at 11 am and take 1 hour.

11. NATA 7

Pastel de Nata is something of an obsession in Portugal. This small parcel of flaky pastry packed with egg custard and burnt to perfection on top, can divide the nation if you ask where to find the best one.

We have it on good authority that Nata 7 is the place to go. Judging by the steady stream of locals out front, it’s hard to argue.

nata 7 funchal
NATA 7

12. UAUCACAU

Madeira has a wonderful artisan approach to their various crafts and Uaucacau Chocolate is a great way to experience one of the many quality treats you can get in Funchal.

While the chocolate is imported, all the fillings are made from local ingredients. One of the most popular is passionfruit, but I was a big fan of the salted caramel.

REFUEL // OUR COFFEE TIP

Wash down your chocolates or Pastel de Nata with a coffee from The Studio. I loved their flat white and it’s within easy walking distance of Praça Do Município, Nata 7 and Uaucacau.

13. SÉ CATEDRAL DO FUNCHAL

The Funchal Cathedral looks unassuming from the outside, but the main religious building of the Madeira archipelago is packed with history and interesting architectural features.

Building commenced in 1493 and was completed in the 16th century using characteristics from the Gothic period.

The highlight is the cedarwood ceiling with ivory inlay. It’s a stunning example of Mudéjar decoration common throughout Moorish Iberia, especially Seville and Córdoba.

The cathedral is free to enter.

14. JEEP TOUR

A great way to see more of the Madeira Island is by taking a jeep tour.

Tours will pick you up from your hotel around 9 am and visit various scenic locations where you can appreciate the rugged beauty of the island.

West Island Tour – The West Island tour includes the fishing village of Câmara de Lobos, the agricultural regions near Canhas and the Paul da Serra plateau. The tour returns via Seixal for incredible coastal scenery.

East Island Tour – The East Island tour heads to the highest mountain in Madeira, Pico do Arieiro, before heading to the beautiful Balcões Viewpoint. After lunch you visit a rum factory, then Ponta de São Lourenço before returning to Funchal.

Both tours include lunch.

GO

BOOK YOUR TRIP


Spend more time by the pool and less time in planning mode with a package holiday to Madeira with Jet2. They have deals with a wide selection of properties so you can find a stay that’s perfect for you.

15. LEVADA WALK

Levadas are water canals that transport water around the island from the rainforests in the north. There are over 1400 kilometres of levada throughout Madeira with the longest being 90 kilometres.

A popular way to get outdoors in Madeira is by doing a Levada walk. There are several you can do on guided tours from Funchal, otherwise they are easy enough to do on your own as the hiking trail follows the canal.

One of the best Levada walks is the 25 Fontes – Cascada de Risco, a beautiful hike with hundreds of little waterfalls. The trail is 9 kilometres (return), easy to follow and should take around 4 hours.

This self-guided 25 Fontes walk includes pick-up from your hotel in Funchal. They get you to the start of the trail before other hikers so you’ll have it to yourself for the first couple of hours.

MAP | FUNCHAL, MADEIRA

All the attractions listed in this guide are on the below map so you can get your bearings in the Madeiran capital.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHEN TO VISIT

Madeira is a rock in the middle of the Atlantic and it can have two different weather systems depending on which side of the island you are on. As there are lots of great outdoor activities to enjoy from Funchal, it’s a good idea to avoid as much rain as possible.

The best time to visit Funchal is from August to December which is the driest time of the year. The temperatures remain warm over most of this period and the sea is delightfully swimmable.

Funchal has relatively consistent temperatures and it’s a great year-round destination. However, the warmest period is between July and October.

WHERE TO STAY

Madeira is made for the good life and all windy, scenic, mountain roads lead to Funchal – the capital of the island.

We stayed at NEXT at Savoy Signature, a modern resort-style hotel with a cheeky personality and a cool modern design.

They have a winning roof-top pool and bar, direct access to the sea and several quality restaurants. It’s a lovely 10-minute walk into the centre of the Old Town.

GETTING TO MADEIRA

Jet2 has regular flights to Madeira from several UK airports including Birmingham, Bristol, Bournemouth, Manchester and London Stanstead.

Look out for great deals on flights from Manchester Airport with Jet2 from where you can take off to over 60 destinations.

MORE PORTUGAL READING

paul mark 1
ANYWHERE WE ROAM IS
READER-SUPPORTED

When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Thanks for your support.

You can also buy us a coffee, and follow us on Instagram or Facebook.

- Paul & Mark.